Growing market share in an environment ripe with relentless competitors can be daunting, overwhelming and exhaustive.
But for some credit unions, building a stronger presence within the insurance sector may be worth the time and expense and may help ensure members are staying close to home for their life, auto, property and casualty and other insurance needs. One strategy that is paying off is their acquisition of local firms with deep community roots.
During the first six months of 2014, there were 165 mergers and acquisitions of insurance agencies and brokerages, according to Optis Partners LLC, a Chicago-based investment banking and financial consulting firm. That time period was the most active first half since 2000.
While hard figures aren't available on the number of credit unions that have acquired insurance firms, their activity has certainly been robust over the past few years.
One of the latest purchases occurred when Lake Michigan Insurance Agency, a division of the $3.1 billion Lake Michigan Credit Union in Grand Rapids, Mich., announced in May that it had acquired Alpha Agency, which is also based in Grand Rapids. The purchase price was not disclosed.
Opened in 1972, Alpha Agency offered personal line, life and health insurance.
After the merger, its owner, Carlo Vanin, remained on as an account executive and to work with his existing clients, according to LMIA.
“With the purchase, we added four new companies that we did not have before. This gives us more markets for both new and existing clients,” said Kenneth Jansen, vice president of LMIA. “We have the ability to market business to over 15 different insurance companies to find the best coverage and rate for both business and personal insurance.”
Alpha Agency was LMIA's second acquisition of an insurance firm. In 2011, it bought Van Tol, Magennis and Lang Inc., a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company that provided personal and business insurance as well as benefit packages, for an undisclosed price. The agency's roots went back to 1921, Jansen said.
“We are looking to buy other agencies as we look to grow our business not only in Grand Rapids, but in other parts of the state where Lake Michigan Credit Union has a presence,” Jansen said.
According to Lake Michigan's March 2014 call report, the credit union's wholly owned CUSO, Lake Michigan Financial Group had total assets of $11.9 million, total capital of $8.6 million and net income of $392,242.
Credit unions are in a strong position to offer insurance agent or broker services to their members because they have established, trusted relationships with them, said Todd Eyler, a research director at Boston-based Aite Group.
“Small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, benefit from the strong existing knowledge of their business and can benefit from the more tailored types of insurance and risk management-related advice that an insurance agency can offer,” Eyler said.
Also, for small and medium-sized businesses, many need more extensive advice for their employees related to employee benefits, which is another potential void that credit unions can fill.
“The commissions and fees coming from the agency provide risk-free, recurring revenue to the credit union–something that's very attractive in a low interest environment like we have today,” said Eyler, an insurance industry analyst.
According to a June report from research firm Cerulli Associates in Boston that examined managing insurance company balance sheet assets, outsourced non-affiliated insurance general account assets reached $1.2 trillion in 2013, and will account for 23% of total insurance general account assets in 2014.
“The pace of new outsourced investment mandates has come in fits and starts in recent years, but we expect solid growth in assets going forward as insurers diversify their investment portfolios away from investment-grade fixed income,” said Alexi Maravel, associate director at Cerulli.
The $5.5 billion Alaska USA Federal Credit Union in Anchorage has certainly seen the ebbs and flows within the insurance sector as its CUSO, Alaska USA Insurance Brokers, has been offering service to members since 1986.
In September 2012, the CUSO purchased Anchorage-based Rentschler Insurance Agency for an undisclosed amount, according to Timothy Maudsley, president of AUIB. RIA had served commercial insurance clients in Alaska for more than 25 years.
“RIA was a long-established agency located in Anchorage and earned a strong reputation for service to its clients for many years,” Maudsley said. “The demographics of the book of business that was purchased fit very well within our business strategy, which made the acquisition a good fit.”
Alaska USA Insurance Brokers is the largest independent insurance brokerage in Alaska, offering lines for commercial businesses as well as personal insurance needs, according to Maudsley. The RIA acquisition improved market share in the local business community and over the years, the CUSO had purchased multiple books of insurance businesses.
According to the credit union's NCUA March 2014 call report, AUIB had total assets of $35.1 million, $30.3 million in total capital and more than $1.7 million in net income.
There have been a number of other notable insurance acquisitions within the credit union industry over the past few years. In 2012, TDECU Insurance Agency LLC, a subsidiary of the $2.2 billion Texas Dow Employees Credit Union in Lake Jackson, Texas, bought four insurance agencies. Owned by the $4 billion United Nations Federal Credit Union in Long Island City, N.Y., UNFCU Financial Services LLC acquired Industrial Coverage Corp., a privately-held commercial and personal insurance agency, the credit union said in January 2013.
Desjardins Group made headlines in January when it announced that it would buy State Farm Canada's property and casualty insurance business making the $210 billion cooperative.